UEFA Nations League 2018 will have its group phase come to a close during this November FIFA international break, with the summer semifinals and promotion and relegation places being determined across the continent.
After three months, it’s still unclear just how seriously nations are taking the nascent competition. Germany manager Joachim Low didn’t seem all too perturbed with the thought of relegation to League B, stating this week that the chief focus is on qualifying for the 2020 European championship. He’s probably not alone. It’s hard to create a new competition and instill the same desire among teams as they have for global tournaments with a deep and rich history.
That said, there is still a competitive element to the new Nations League, far more than in meaningless friendlies, and much is at stake as group play comes to an end. Here’s where things stand from the top of League A to the bottom of League D as the final matches come around:
It’s down to France and the Netherlands for who will win the group. France is on seven points with one match to go, while the Dutch have three points and two matches to play–including a showdown with the World Cup champions on Friday. A Netherlands win Friday and subsequent win or draw vs. Germany would vault the Dutch into first place, but all France needs Friday is a draw to secure the top spot.
As for Germany, it will be hoping for a France win over the Netherlands so it can then save face and avoid relegation to League B with a win over the Dutch on Monday.
Belgium and Switzerland will fight for first place and a semifinal spot regardless of Belgium’s outcome vs. Iceland on Thursday. Belgium and the Swiss both have six points, though the Belgians have a game in hand. Even if they go to nine points by beating Iceland, a Switzerland win on Sunday, by a score that wins the goal differential tiebreaker, would put the Swiss in first. The first tiebreaker, head-to-head points, currently belongs to Belgium after a 2-1 win last month, but that would be nullified if Switzerland reverses the result in Luzern.
Iceland has secured relegation to League B after going winless in its first three matches.
Portugal is looking good for the semifinals, with six points from two games–despite playing without Cristiano Ronaldo. Italy sits in second with four points through three matches and could make things interesting by beating Portugal on home soil on Saturday, though it would still require Portugal to lose to Poland on Tuesday to put the Azzurri through to the semis.
Poland has already been relegated from the group despite being able to tie Italy on points entering the final games. Its previous loss and draw vs. Italy give the head-to-head tiebreaker to Robert Mancini’s side.
This group remains wide open, with the only certainty going into the final games being that Spain cannot be relegated.
Luis Enrique’s bunch can win the group by beating Croatia Thursday, but Croatia, even though it has just one point through two games, can vault into first by beating both Spain and England in a four-day stretch. England, however, can win the group if Croatia beats Spain Thursday and then falls to the Three Lions on Sunday.
Ukraine has already secured promotion through three matches and will move up to League A for the second edition of the competition. Relegation to League C comes down to Czech Republic (three points) and Slovakia (no points, game in hand). A Slovakia win or draw vs. Ukraine on Friday would give the last-place side a boost, but it will ultimately come down to the second head-to-head matchup between the two sides that used to be a unified nation 25 years ago on Monday.
Russia, leading the group on seven points through three matches, is in position to be promoted to League A and can wrap that up with a win or draw vs. Sweden next Tuesday. Depending on what happens to Sweden vs. Turkey on Saturday, though, that match may be a dead rubber. The Swedes must beat Turkey to move to four points and then beat Russia in order to top the group via head-to-head tiebreaker.
Turkey, which cannot win the group, can avoid relegation and send Sweden tumbling down to League C with a win or draw Saturday.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a perfect 3-0-0 and is all but promoted, though it can still be pipped to first place by Austria. If Austria beats B-H by a margin of more than one (or wins by one by scoring multiple goals), it will secure the tiebreaker and then can win the group by beating Northern Ireland. All becomes moot if B-H wins or draws vs. Austria on Thursday.
That would send Austria and Northern Ireland’s match into an essential relegation playoff, with Austria needing just a draw, while Northern Ireland would need a win by a margin more than one or a win by one while scoring multiple goals to stay up with the tiebreaker.
Wales is in a tenuous drivers seat, with six points through three games and a two-point lead over Denmark, which has a game in hand. Ryan Giggs’s side can secure promotion with a win over Denmark on Friday, though a draw or loss would open the door for the Danes to get to first with a subsequent home result over Ireland on Monday.
Ireland cannot be promoted, but it can avoid relegation by getting help from a Wales win on Friday before taking matters into its own hands with a win over Denmark. A Wales-Denmark draw would relegate the Irish.
The only three-team group in this league hangs in the balance. Israel, Scotland and Albania each can still be promoted to League B, and each can still finish last in the group. Israel will be rooting for an Albania win over Scotland on Saturday, which would pad the margin for error going into its group finale against the Scots on Tuesday.
A Scotland win or draw vs. Albania would put the Albanians in dire danger of being relegated (the lowest-ranked third-place team goes down, given that there is only one group with three teams and the rest have four, so Albania, or whoever finishes last in this group, could still avoid relegation) and put Scotland in control of its destiny.
Finland has promotion all but secured after four wins in its four matches in a four-team group. Greece could theoretically finish first, but it would need Finland to drop its final two matches, all while beating Finland by more than the 2-0 scoreline it lost by in their other head-to-head meeting.
Relegation will come down to Hungary and Estonia and could be decided as soon as Thursday. Hungary holds a three-point lead and would secure safety with a win. A second draw between the two would prolong the “race” to the final day, when Hungary hosts Finland and Estonia travels to Greece.
Norway and Bulgaria each sit on nine points with two games to go and are in the best shape to be promoted. Slovenia, with one point through four games, can’t be promoted and is most likely to be relegated, while Cyprus, despite being in third, currently has the worst ranking of the third-place teams and is also in danger of going down as thing currently stand.
Serbia leads a tight three-team race for promotion with eight points through four games. Montenegro (seven points) and Romania (six) are on the trail, while Lithuania (no points) is staring at relegation.
Georgia has already been promoted to League C with two matches to spare. Kazakhstan (five points) and Latvia and Andora (two points each) are fighting for second. Case closed.
Luxembourg (nine points) leads the race for promotion, with Belarus (eight points) and Moldova (five) all still in the hunt with two games to go. Only San Marino (no points) is eliminated from promotion contention.
Kosovo (eight points) is in best shape to be promoted with two games to go, though Azerbaijan (six points) and Faroe Islands (four) remain alive. Malta (two points) is out of the race.
All four teams in the group can still be promoted to League C, with Macedonia (nine points) leading the group with two games remaining. Gibraltar holds the tiebreaker over Armenia, with both currently on six points, while Liechtenstein sits in fourth with three points.